NJMMA Offers Primer on the Administration of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The proper administration of both the federal and state medical leave programs is an important part of human resource management for local governments. Held in late November in Atlantic City as part of its educational offerings at the recent New Jersey League of Municipalities Annual Conference, the New Jersey Municipal Management Association (NJMMA) sponsored an important session on these programs and how municipalities and their human resource experts can properly apply these important programs, and their appropriate regulations, for their employees.

“At the federal level, the Family Medical Leave Act was enacted in 1993 as a way to ensure proper work/life balance, while ensuring the economic security of employees and their families,” said Shavonne Person, a Community Outreach & Planning Specialist with the United States Department of Labor. “It’s essential that municipal governments and their human resource directors have a clear understanding of its eligibility parameters and how to work with their employees when family leave is needed or warranted.”

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) is a federal labor law that requires covered employers to provide employees with job-protected, unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons. The Act allows eligible employees to take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period to care for a new baby, significantly ill member of the family, or as a period to recover serious illness or surgery. Signed it into law on February 5, 1993, the FMLA is administered by the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the United States Department of Labor.

In order to be eligible for leave under the FMLA, employees need to have worked for the employer for a minimum of 12 months, worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and work for an employer with a minimum of 50 employees. The complete text of the FMLA can be found by clicking here.

Several states, including New Jersey, have passed laws providing additional family and medical leave protections for workers. In New Jersey, the additional protections are provided under the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA). Like the FMLA, the NJFLA entitles certain employees to take up to 12 weeks of family leave, but within a 24-month period, without losing their jobs.

With some potential exceptions, employers must provide leave if:

  • The employer has at least 50 employees (or at least 30 employees as of June 30, 2019), or is a government entity, regardless of size.
  • The employee has worked for the employer for at least one year, and has worked at least 1,000 hours within the last 12-month period.
  • Leave is being taken to care for and/or bond with a child within the first year since birth or adoption/foster placement, care for a family member, or someone “equivalent” of family, who has a serious health condition.

According to Lisa Barre-Quick of Apruzzese, McDermott, Mastro & Murphy, the NJFLA does not provide leave for the employee’s own health condition. That leave comes under FMLA. Except in an emergency, employees must give the employer notice before taking family leave under NJFLA. To ensure that the employee meets the eligibility requirements, they may be required to provide a certification from a physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding the family member’s health issues or certification of child’s birth or adoption/foster placement. A simple explanation of the NJFLA can be found by clicking here.

Kimberly Duva, Personnel Director for the Township of Bloomfield, weighed in on the importance of having a clear understanding of both of these laws at the municipal level. “Employees may know about the FMLA and NJFLA, but they do not understand the intricacies of how they work and if their leave need makes the eligible for either,” she said. “It is important that all employees have a basic understanding, and that the essential elements of both Acts are found in employee handbooks and related documents.”